Former NEJM editor Arnold Relman dies at 91

RelmanSee Storify for updates. 

Arnold Relman, the former New England Journal of Medicine editor, has died. From Bryan Marquard at the Globe: 

Eloquent and forceful on the page or the podium, Dr. Arnold Relman led the New England Journal of Medicine for more than 13 years, raising a sometimes lonely voice to warn about the dangers of for-profit medicine when many in politics and his profession raced to embrace a free market approach.

Dr. Relman also was one of the nation’s foremost writers about the rising cost of health care. Persistent to the end, he received the galleys of his final article just a few days before he died of cancer in his Cambridge home early Tuesday, on his 91st birthday.

 

When he suffered a catastrophic fall last year, he wrote about it in The New York Review of Books:

 

Since then, I have made an astonishing recovery, in the course of which I learned how it feels to be a helpless patient close to death. I also learned some things about the US medical care system that I had never fully appreciated, even though this is a subject that I have studied and written about for many years.

 

What he reported was not flattering to Spaulding Rehab, the hospitals that has won praise for working with so many marathon bombing survivors.

What did this experience teach me about the current state of medical care in the US? Quite a lot, as it turns out. I always knew that the treatment of the critically ill in our best teaching hospitals was excellent. That was certainly confirmed by the life-saving treatment I received in the Massachusetts General emergency room. Physicians there simply refused to let me die (try as hard as I might). But what I hadn’t appreciated was the extent to which, when there is no emergency, new technologies and electronic record-keeping affect how doctors do their work. Attention to the masses of data generated by laboratory and imaging studies has shifted their focus away from the patient. Doctors now spend more time with their computers than at the bedside. That seemed true at both the ICU and Spaulding. Reading the physicians’ notes in the MGHand Spaulding records, I found only a few brief descriptions of how I felt or looked, but there were copious reports of the data from tests and monitoring devices. Conversations with my physicians were infrequent, brief, and hardly ever reported.

What personal care hospitalized patients now get is mostly from nurses. In the MGHICU the nursing care was superb; at Spaulding it was inconsistent. I had never before understood how much good nursing care contributes to patients’ safety and comfort, especially when they are very sick or disabled. This is a lesson all physicians and hospital administrators should learn. When nursing is not optimal, patient care is never good.

More on that piece from The NYTimes. 

 

Relman often commented on the influence of money on medicine. In 20o9,  he crashed the inaugural meeting of the Association of Clinical Researchers and Educators (ACRE) “an organization of medical professionals dedicated to the advancement of patient care through productive collaboration with industry and its counterparts.”

So, we asked for his thoughts about the presentations. Here they are:

“I sat through the whole program, which was a sustained diatribe against conflict-of-interest regulations rather than a scholarly, balanced discussion of the issues. There was practically no time for audience questions or comments, but instead an almost unrelenting barrage of ideological and anecdotal criticism of what was said to be a misguided “belief system” that worries excessively over relations between industry and the medical profession. There was an occasional informative and reasonable contribution, but for the most part sarcasm and anger prevailed.
 
The heavily industry-related audience loved the performance, but the obviously biased, self-serving, and often grossly flawed presentations should have embarrassed the organizers. Although neither Harvard Medical School nor the Brigham & Women’s Hospital sponsored or formally endorsed the meeting, the HMS Dean did give the initial welcoming remarks, and the Hospital offered its facilities for the event. One can only hope that they are now having second thoughts.”
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